As part of Augsburg’s EdTalk series through the Center for Teaching and Learning, Professor Jenny Kluznik spoke on how students are trained within PA education to step into the role of health provider, advocate, and leader. Jenny Kluznik is an Assistant Professor and the Academic Coordinator for the PA Program and joined the faculty in 2014. She serves as the course director for the Clinical Medicine course series in the didactic phase of the program. In addition, she is a graduate of the Augsburg PA Program and excited to be back teaching. Below you can watch the full EdTalk!
This year we are highlighting Augsburg alumni that are celebrating their first, five, ten and twenty-year anniversaries! The first blog post in this series we talk with a graduate from the class of 2017, Omar Fernandes. Omar recently celebrated his first-year work anniversary with HealthPartners as a PA in family medicine. He currently practices in Eagan, MN in an outpatient clinic with two physicians, two other PAs, an obgyn/midwifery group, a chiropractor, a pharmacist, certified diabetes educator, and dietitian. With one year of experience under his belt, Omar has quite a lot to share with currents PA students about the first-year transition.
Why did you decide to pursue family medicine?
I chose family medicine because I thrive on patient and disease variety, and understanding human development holistically. I see a lot of different signs and symptoms playing out in various and sometimes, very complex rhythms. In clinic, there is not always the classic presentation of a case. I also get to work with an amazing range of patient personalities. You also get to establish amazing relationships. The lessons I’ve learned, especially from older patients, can be life-changing. Your patients are just as much of your teachers as you educate them about their health. Being a PA means lifelong learning that happens every day.
My advice for pursuing family medicine is to know that it is constant and never ends. There will always be something needs to be addressed. After the patient leaves, they should feel assured their concern has been addressed and there is a plan in place.
What was the biggest transition between PA school to your first job?
It was scary having a 3-month break between school and starting my job. You feel like you are forgetting what you learned and that can cause some anxiety. However, once you start, the knowledge comes back fast and you eventually find your stride! At HealthPartners, I ramped up to a full schedule within about five months.
What was a major challenge in your first year?
Staying on time is still my biggest challenge. There is a whole separate world of “electronic patient care” that is closely intertwined, yet also very independent from face-to-face care. You always need to keep a handle on your EMR in-basket because you can really get behind; there’s always a million labs, patients, and forms to address.
Coming up on your first-year anniversary, what are areas you feel more comfortable in now compared to when you started?
Procedures! I’ve gotten to do quite a few, and learned some new ones, too. They tend to come in waves, and there are always opportunities to learn more.
I also love managing certain conditions. Hypertension is one of my absolute favorites! It is chronic, multifaceted and can sometimes be tricky to diagnose. There are so many moving parts to hypertension including various treatment options and still, it can be very difficult to manage. It also requires a lot of patient cooperation.
What tips do you have for students on applying and interviewing for their first job?
Use your networks from school and rotations to advise you on jobs and contract negotiation. If you have multiple eyes look at your contract, you have that many more ideas on what type of compensation package makes sense for you.
While you should apply broadly, be sure you are applying to practice areas you enjoy.
Now that you have more spare time, what activities do you enjoy?
I’ve been doing some traveling and going to different national parks around the country. I was in Death Valley, California over the New Year and that was really spectacular. I also really loved Zion in Utah. I joined the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus last September and our next show is this weekend. I also love doing CME stuff. My next conference is in Santa Fe, NM on wilderness medicine. In general, I think it is important to have a professional advancement goal to work towards.
On a side note, you can catch Omar singing in action at Unbreakable showing March 29th and 30th at the Ted Mann Concert Hall on the University of Minnesota West Bank campus! Purchase tickets to attend the show.
There have been some recent criticisms of short term mission work. Criticisms have revolved around mission “voluntourism” relating to a lack of cultural understanding and performance of work for personal gain rather than true engagement in a community’s needs. I think healthcare is a great exception to this. We have specific skill sets, skills that are otherwise not present in third world countries, and we can directly impact these people by improving their quality of life immensely. The needs in the developing world can be overwhelming. It can feel impossible to make a dent in the problem. The focus, as always, needs to be on our individual patients and the life changing care we give. Although this is “short term” mission work, the impact on our patients is far from short term.
I would challenge everyone to remember why you became or are becoming a PA. Although needs at home certainly exist, consider expanding your practice globally. The need abounds. It will change you as a person and as a provider, you won’t regret it.
Brady Griffith, PA-C graduated from the Augsburg PA program in 2016. He is now working as an Emergency Medicine PA at Ridgeview Medical Center. Before PA school, Brady was a ED Technician at Ridgeview and loved it so much that he knew he wanted to return there after graduation. He recently penned the following reflection and permitted us to share it:
But it matters to them . . .
That short, simple phrase has had a profound impact on my practice.
Working in emergency medicine for the past 2 years has generated plenty of opportunities for introspection. On my late drives home from an evening shift, I found myself reflecting on the day. Did I sign that chart? Will that 88 year old do ok at home that I felt warranted admission but declined? Will the 5 month old with RSV do ok with just supportive cares? Will that dog bite that needed repair get infected? The list goes on.
One of my favorite parts about the emergency department is the variety of patients that walk through the door. While there are plenty of true emergencies on a day to day basis, there are plenty of… not so true emergencies. At least from our standpoint.
I remember driving home one night after a shift reflecting back on the day. It was a busy shift with high acuity patients. Trauma, stroke, heart attack… you name it. One MD and myself trying to manage the chaos. There were sobbing family members for a patient who had a serious head injury, screaming babies, an intoxicated patient yelling at nursing staff, and a distressed family of a young child whose j-tube had dislodged. We were doing our best to frankly stay afloat and safely practice medicine.
In the midst of the chaos, more ambulances were on the way heading our direction and the waiting room was filling up. A middle aged patient with the chief complaint of “personal matter” registered. Due to his overall stable clinical appearance and vital signs, the patient was triaged as low acuity and therefore waited about 2 hours until I saw him. He did not divulge any specifics of his concern to nursing staff and instead wanted to wait for a provider. He seemed very concerned explaining his problem to me although in my mind there was nothing concerning about his story. He had plantar warts.
I gave him some recommendations, provided reassurance, and discharged him home. In my mind, I was thankful for a patient that didn’t need a massive work-up. I couldn’t help but think at the time, why didn’t you just make a clinic appointment for this? This is not an emergency.
But it mattered to him.
As I was driving home that night, reflecting on the shift, I found myself thinking about the guy with warts more than the critical patients we served. It was the perfect juxtaposition in the context of that particular day. He frankly didn’t need to be there, but there he was.
Because it mattered to him.
That profound phrase has had a meaningful impact on my practice, friendships, and even my marriage. How often in life do we hurt someone unintentionally and then selfishly put the blame on the other person for getting hurt? Too often. Bottom line is that if it matters to the other person, it should matter to us.
Empathy must be at the foundation of medicine and life.
My realization that night was that if I ever stop caring about what matters to patients, I should step away from medicine, no matter how big or small the concern may be. Because, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what matters to me when I come to work…This is the beauty of medicine.
-Brady Griffith, PA-C
For Augsburg PA, the year of 2018 was characterized by significant growth! We grew in all areas, whether it was as a department, incoming cohort or physical space. In this end of year review, we break down all the happenings.
Last May, we welcomed 33 first year students to campus. This increase in admitted students prompted a remodel throughout February and March. With the remodel, classrooms were enlarged, new technology installed and added flexible seating arrangements to promote active learning. Renovations wrapped in early April so that the 2019 cohort enjoyed the space as well!
The cohort of 2020 kicked off the first day of fall semester with a group volunteering event at Feed My Starving Children. Faculty, staff and students packed a total of 15,120 meals within 2 hours. A few weeks later, students attended the White Coat Ceremony where they celebrated moving on to the next chapter of their PA education. We were honored to have Matt Brogan, PA-C deliver the keynote address. Matt directs the Interventional Radiology PA rotation at the University of Minnesota. After the ceremony, students mingled with staff, faculty, family and friends.
In November, the program celebrated the twenty-second graduation class. Every year the graduating class nominates individuals to be the Guest Commencement Speaker, Student Commencement Speaker and Preceptor of the Year. Amy Gerlach, PA-C of Fairview Columbia Heights Clinic, was awarded Preceptor of the Year. Amy has been a preceptor with our program for over 5 years and continues to support PA education. Rick Burris, PA-C, PhD has also been a long-time clinical instructor with Augsburg and was invited to give the commencement address. During his speech, Rick reflected that when he first started out, he was often told he should find a back up plan. However, he didn’t really need one as he says, “Well now, after 50 years of PAs, it seems they were wrong!” Dr. Burris shared 5 things that are required for a PA to survive:
- Listen. It is the hallmark of our profession. Listen to everything a patient says and understand from their perspective any issue.
- Character. So that no one can impugn or challenge your character, put it to the test daily and live out the virtues of integrity, honesty, generosity, sincerity, self-control and loving kindness.
- Experience, all that you can, be it trial, suffering or even the smallest morsel of education, take it!
- Healthy ambition is the measured striving for achievement or distinction, established by integrity and honesty toward all people.
- Success. It isn’t final. It is ongoing and when you put all you have into it, working hard, preparing for tomorrow and learning from failure, you will see success. Success may come in different ways, but it is the realization of success that matters, not the accolades that so quickly fade.
Class President Emma Hermes delivered the Student Commencement speech to her fellow peers. Emma decided to “diagnosis” the class as a way to showcase their uniqueness. She put her PA training to the test by describing the condition, epidemiology, etiology, symptoms, physical exam, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. During their time in PA school, there were 9 engagements, 7 marriages, and 10 babies. She outlined how these 30 individuals came from their own separate paths and joined together to become the class of 2018: “Well, we thought it would be ‘fun’ to challenge ourselves to learn all we can about medicine in 28 months.”
The clinical presentation of symptoms ranged from positive to negative, and might “include dysregulation of weight and emotions, such as laughing, crying, and smiling all in one minute.” Upon physical exam, you might find some of the following: high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, a general disheveled and tired appearance, intermittent tachycardia, with occasional arrhythmias, likely due to stress, dry and cracked due to excessive washing and sanitizing of hands in clinical phase.” And finally, she reached a diagnosis, the treatment plan and prognosis of the class. In her closing to the class, Emma reassured her class that “although from here we go our separate ways, we will always have something that bonds us together. Over the past 28 months we stuck together through the good days and the bad, to get here. We lifted each other up when we were down, lent a hand when school or life got hard. We not only gained a lot of medical knowledge, we gained each other as friends and future colleagues.”
Yet again our department faculty and staff grew in size. Throughout the course of the year we added three faculty positions and two staff members. Mandy Perkins, PharmD transitioned from part time faculty to being here all the time! Dr. Perkins teaches the pharmacotherapy courses throughout the academic year and assists with the clinical phase. Two alumni of the program, Eric Van Hecke, PA-C and Kristen Lindvall, PA-C joined our ranks this fall. PA education has been a consistent theme throughout Eric’s career as he has been a preceptor and guest lecturer. His career spans experiences in both large, level one, emergency departments as well as small, rural community-based emergency departments. Kristen transitioned from General Surgery at HealthPartners to be a full time faculty. She is excited to train future PAs to function at their highest level and to promote the excellence of Augsburg PA students. This spring we welcomed Tim Capelle as our new Program Manager. He has over 15 years of higher education administration experience and admissions management capacity. Stacey Hegrenes brings her administrative talent to the program and also her superb knitting skills.
You did it! After a long, competitive application cycle you were admitted into a PA program. If you are attending a program that requires you to relocate, you likely have a long to-do list. Read on to hear what current students considered before making the move.
Nathan Kleppe, PA-S2: A North Dakotan moves South
“I knew that coming to a bigger city could include much heavier traffic than I was used to. I wanted to find a place close enough to campus so that I could avoid the major busy roads.” Nathan decided to not look for a roommate and knew an unfurnished apartment was best as he had his own furnishings. Once he found apartments that fit his criteria, he scheduled showings and made a weekend trip to see them.
Nathan was excited about the general experience of living somewhere new and all that it had to offer including new restaurants, parks, entertainment and meeting new people.
He encourages incoming students to look into health insurance options ahead of time. This is especially true if the student will not be covered under their parents’ or a significant other’s health insurance coverage. All admitted students are required to have health insurance while in the program.
Michael Kittok, PA-S1: A Minnesotan and his family relocate from Texas
Although Michael is a Minnesotan, he and his family were living in Texas during the application process. “We started planning before I even found out I was accepted.” Together with his wife, they made a list of tasks that needed to be accomplished. Some of the major decisions included: finding a realtor for their home in Texas as well as one in Minnesota; the timing of when to start looking for a home; figuring out their budget; and being pre-approved for a loan before we moved.” In addition to all the logistical items of moving, his family was also leaving and there were emotional ties to their community there. Michael says, “We included our kids very early on after I was accepted. We were able to take full advantage of the Austin area and do the things we wanted to do before we moved.”
Prioritizing study time can also be a challenge when you are a parent. Michael says, “I have had to go outside the house to study which is actually a good thing, I think.” It is important to discuss with your family, significant others and even your friends that you will have less free time as you will need to study. Even during the clinical phase of a program, you will still need to study between your shifts to prepare for end of rotation exams.
Isaac Pierre, PA-S1: A Midwesterner moves back from Seattle
Even though you may be moving for school, it is important to take into account the things you enjoy. Maybe being within walking distance to coffee shops or restaurants is an important factor. Or perhaps you are hoping to save on expenses by living with a roommate. These are all aspects you should weigh when deciding where you’d like to live.
Isaac Pierre decided to first sublet a furnished apartment for the summer semester so that it would be an easier transition. He says, “It allowed me to focus on my studies and integrating into the new city rather than having to worry about moving or furnishing my apartment. Subletting also allowed me to visit apartments, gather furnishings, and get a sense for what neighborhood I wanted to live in before committing to a year-long lease.”
Isaac hails from the land of the Green Bay Packers. When he relocated to Seattle for work, he missed his family that reside in Wisconsin. He looked forward to being closer to them and engage with the community. Another asset of relocating to Minnesota is all the outside recreational activities. Isaac was excited to take advantage of the state’s biking and hiking opportunities, including a trip to the Boundary Waters during the summer break.
Victoria Tahmassebi, PA-S2: A Californian relocates
As a native Californian, Victoria fielded numerous questions about if she was aware how cold Minnesota can be. If you’ve never experienced windchill, it can be quite the adjustment. Although the cold weather was a concern of hers, Victoria was excited to move as she had never lived anywhere but California. She says, “I was excited to experience all the seasons in Minnesota and spend time on the lakes and just exploring a new city.”
Victoria opted to live with a fellow classmate who had a car. They decided to look into how far of a drive it was to campus as well as checking with their PA Buddies about what neighborhoods were the safest and closest to campus. A trip to Ikea helped to furnish their apartment with items they weren’t able to ship or move.
Although Victoria initially did not have a car, she decided to buy one as she frequently had to use uber. Victoria says, ‘I’ve learned that underground heating parking is worth the extra hundred dollars in the winter!”
The Augsburg PA faculty recently welcomed Amanda Perkins onboard as she switches over to a full-time role within the program. With her change over to full time, Amanda will split her time between the academic and clinical phases of the program. Amanda Perkins first joined the Augsburg PA while filling in during a sabbatical. Amanda worked full time as a clinical pharmacist within the Medication Therapy Management (MTM) program at HealthPartners St. Paul Wabasha Clinic. Over the past year, Dr. Perkins has taught the pharmacotherapy course to first year students. When she is not busy in clinic or teaching, Dr. Perkins enjoys reading, traveling and spending time with family and friends. Recently, she welcomed a new addition to her family – a bernedoodle puppy named Lucy.
What do you find the most rewarding part of teaching?
“Developing the relationships with students and then knowing they will become her peers is a rewarding aspect of teaching.”
What piece of advice do you have for PA students?
“This is more advice for life, although I think it applies in school as well: Look at everything as an opportunity. You never know where an opportunity will present itself or who you will meet that may be your next employer. Also, stay flexible. Your career goals will change and it’s ok. Listen to your heart.”
What is one piece of advice do you tell your patients?
“The medicine only works if you take it.”
Please join us in congratulating Dr. Perkins on her new position!
As thousands of students submit their applications for the current CASPA cycle, faculty at Augsburg PA Program have suggestions and reminders to keep in mind! Take their advice to heart as they all have been in your shoes.
Trent Whitcomb is a clinical phase faculty member who returned to Augsburg PA after a few years away. Trent is a graduate of Rosalind Franklin University of Health Sciences / The Chicago Medical School. His three tips to follow are:
- Do not, under any circumstances, ever refer to a PA as a Physician’s Assistant. My license to practice, NCCPA board certification, and diploma all state “Physician Assistant”. Use of the apostrophe tells admissions committee members that you haven’t done your research.
- Have several people review the essay portion of your CASPA application as well as any supplemental applications that are program specific.
- Research the programs you are applying to and know why you are applying for each program.
Vanessa Bester is our Associate Program Director who has been in PA education since 2007. She graduated from University of Florida’s PA program and came to Augsburg from the University of Washington. She advises prospective students to remember the following:
- Most people applying to PA school have excellent grades, want to help people, and have some clinical experience. So what is going to make the faculty reviewing your application remember you? Think about: How do you align with the program’s mission? Why do you care?
- As an interviewer, I ask: As a human being, when I meet you, could I see myself trusting you with my loved ones’ lives?
Program Director Alicia Quella graduated from the University of Iowa Physician Program and has worked in PA education for many years. Dr. Quella urges students to be yourself! We don’t want you to say something you think we want to hear. In doing this, be sure you do not copy our mission statement; instead think of how you align with our mission and how you demonstrate it.
Professor Eric Barth has been with the Augsburg PA program since 2008 and knows what it takes to get into PA school. He completed his physician assistant training at Trevecca University and University of Nebraska, Omaha.
- First, all applicants need to understand and articulate that becoming a PA is about providing genuine care for other people. There is no room for selfishness or ego.
- Secondly, for re-applicants, avoid recycling applications. We all want to know what the you have done to improve your chances over the prior year. In addition, I think it’s a sign of maturity to articulate how it felt to be denied admission the prior year.
- Last is to always keep moving towards their goal of becoming a PA. Take or retake a class, get more patient care experience, go on a mission trip, job shadow, anything to improve your chances.
Professor Jenny Kluznik is alumni of the Augsburg PA program and came back as faculty and our academic coordinator. She advises “candidates to spend quality time on developing their personal statement and other essays required on an application for PA school. The personal statement and essays are the pieces of an application where the individuality of an applicant shows through. Applicants should take time to write these and fully represent their talents, goals, and background experience. Take time to write, rewrite, get feedback, and proofread.”
We wish you the best of luck as you all pursue your PA education!
Every year the Augsburg PA Program hosts an annual 5K run benefiting local organizations around the community. Participants are encouraged to bring non-perishable food donations in order to earn raffle tickets. It was a very successful year as 78 participants turned out for the event. A wide variety of companies donated prizes to be raffled off at the end of the race!
The non-perishable food items gathered this year were donated to Augsburg’s Campus Cupboard. Campus Cupboard is a food shelf run by and for Augsburg students. The Cupboard is run by volunteers and hours are often variable in the summer; however, during the academic school year, it is open 5 days a week. The free food shelf was founded 5 years ago as a joint venture between the Fighting Poverty at Augsburg special interest group and the Creating an Inclusive Campus conference. Donations from the 5K totaled 130 lbs! Janet Nguyen, of the Campus Cupboard, noted this will keep the cupboard fully stocked for the summer months as well as into the fall semester!
A special thank you to all the donors that partnered with us this year:
Rachel Gratz, PA-S2, has a lot to celebrate and look forward to in 2019! She recently found out she is one of 19 students being awarded the 2018 Health Professional Scholarship Program (HPSP) from Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs gives out the scholarship with the hopes of increasing the supply of PAs within the VA but also for the nation. Across the country, over 800 students applied for education support while also making a commitment to serve for two years as a PA with the VA.
Everyone has their own story to pursuing a career as a PA. For Rachel, she has always been dedicated to doing things for others. From a young age, she was volunteering anywhere she could and even donating her allowance to sponsor a girl in Brazil. Her passion evolved over the years as she worked in nursing homes, hospice care, assisted living and mental health. “The accumulation of these experiences and my degree in Biology ultimately led me on the journey to the PA profession,” says Rachel.